ironSource's Anna Popereko: Seven ways to increase revenue from merge games

The game design consultant explains how to capitalise on one of mobile gaming's hottest genre trends

ironSource's Anna Popereko: Seven ways to increase revenue from merge games

Mobile gaming has become the dominant gaming platform in the world, thanks in part to the array of monetisation models available, including free-to-play. Unlike other platforms where the model is a relative rarity, app stores are rife with high-quality titles that players can enjoy for free, across multiple genres.

But even free-to-play games need to strike a balance to avoid frustrating the consumer, or else making their games too easy, with the hot trend in merge games making it harder for your title to stand out and win big.

In this guest post, ironSource game design consultant Anna Popereko discusses the ways that mobile game developers can boost revenue in the merge genre without alienating their audience.

Merge games - currently one of the hottest subgenres in mobile gaming - are big, and for good reason. In 2021, they experienced 17% growth, successfully tapping into the competitive genre of puzzle games - one of the biggest mobile game genres. What’s so interesting is how they connect with the huge puzzle gaming audience, while also providing unique opportunities to implement a diverse and creative monetisation strategy through rewarded videos.

A game designer by trade, I now spend my time as a Game Design Consultant helping mobile game developers improve their economy and monetisation from the perspective of game design. In truth, good monetisation should be - and can be - as carefully designed as your game, as they’re both about creating a valuable and enjoyable user experience and driving more engagement. Here, I will explore different merge games monetisation strategies, and give ideas on how to increase revenue while ensuring a positive user experience.

1. Offer the right amount of energy

Merge games often limit resources, like energy, to keep the game challenging and also make sure players don't advance too quickly - as you want to keep them coming back. When a player runs out of the resource, they can either get more via in-app purchase, wait until a specified time has lapsed for the resource to renew itself, or typically watch a rewarded video ad.

What’s key is to determine how much of the resource to offer in exchange for watching the rewarded video. Offering a large reward will no doubt motivate the player to watch the video, but an oversupply of the resource may demotivate them in the game, which suddenly becomes less challenging. And of course, it also shouldn’t compete with your in-app purchase offerings.

Find the reward sweet spot by running A/B tests. You want the players to be excited enough to want to engage with the rewarded video, and still motivated (since the reward was not overly generous) to continue interacting with rewarded videos as the game progresses.

2. Generate excitement and a sense of urgency

Rewarded videos can take place in multiple locations throughout the game and in different scenarios. Take the situation where a player needs to merge and progress in the game, and all they must do is watch a rewarded video to unlock their much needed item. But the clock is ticking - they only have a limited amount of time or they lose the option of gaining the item.

In merge games, these scenarios often take place in the form of a bubble, where as a player is merging items and needing new high-level items, bubble-like pop ups appear, containing the very item needed to help with the merge. The bubble helps create a level of excitement and motivation to “pop” it. The clock is ticking and the player knows that the option to claim the item will soon disappear along with the bubble.

By creating this sense of urgency, rewarded video bubbles can be a top revenue-generator.

As you’re trying to get players excited early on in the game, use bubbles to help with this, though of course they can and should be used throughout the game. Importantly, as always with rewarded videos, bubbles should only offer rewarded videos up to a certain item level.

3. Shorten the waiting time

Since merge games are designed to keep the players’ progressing at a steady pace, wanting to come back for more, they limit users by energy and/or by time. Once a player’s been active for an extended period of time, they have to wait for the producing object to replenish itself, which can be as long as 12 or 24 hours.

This is the ideal chance to monetise with a rewarded video - allow the player to skip the waiting period in exchange for a rewarded video. Or you can even give them the option to skip a smaller amount of time and receive more resources from the producing object.

4. Let the clock tick again

Like the bubbles, rewarded videos can be offered for a limited amount of time to create a sense of urgency, anywhere in your game. Since they’re outside of the merge grid, you have more flexibility in their location and user experience, providing more revenue generating opportunities. As always, make sure to A/B test the ideal location for the ad unit, and get creative in how a user can interact with it. Perhaps the ad icon flies around the game and the player has to catch it. All of the variables should be reflected in the reward that’s given, ensuring that the player is motivated enough to take the desired action.

5. Utilise the shop

The more ways you can offer players to advance in the game, the more ways you can monetise from them, the better for your bottom line. So, once a player is already exploring your store, it’s an opportune time to add the option of a rewarded video to help them get more items. It’s best to offer a reward that solves their specific needs such as currency or a gacha chest.

On the flip side, knowing that your shop offers free rewards may help generate more traffic towards it. So your non in-app purchase players will start to get exposed to different paid opportunities and might eventually become paying players. To maximise the opportunity, A/B test different types of rewards to see which leads to the highest rewarded video engagement.

6. Refresh the shop items

You may be in a great situation where players are coming to your shop to find a specific item they need. But if they can’t find it there, there’s a window of opportunity for you. Rather than let them wait for the regular amount of time for these items to automatically shuffle and update in the shop, you can offer a rewarded video in exchange for a refresh of the shop items.

It doesn’t come without risks as the desired item(s) may still not show up, but it’s an attractive option for those who don’t want to wait for a natural refresh to still find the items not in the store. Another option is to show them exactly what items will come in the refresh so that they know if watching the rewarded video is worth their while or not.

7. Explore using gacha

Gacha’s another tool you can use to help increase revenues. Though commonly used to offer daily chests, you can get creative and place them at any point in the game to motivate users. Simply present a rewarded video with the gacha activity - opening a chest, spinning a wheel of options etc - as the reward. Then, as is common in many other game genres (think Match 3), you can capitalise on the player’s engagement by immediately presenting another rewarded video for double the rewards.

Merge games and rewarded video are the perfect match. The multitude of different items available in this genre together with the unique energy and time limitations, bring lots of monetisation opportunities that capitalise on the players’ desire to progress. Understanding what drives your players, makes them excited, and keeps them engaged, will help you best place rewarded video to maximise your game’s potential and its revenue.

Edited by Lewis Rees

Staff Writer

Lewis Rees is a journalist, author, and escape room enthusiast based in South Wales. He got his degree in Film and Video from the University of Glamorgan. He's been a gamer all his life.